Notes from “a Dog” on Writing.

20 09 2016

Dogs know the way to pen a tale. Any writer can learn how. Read on:

A Lesson In Storytelling From The Ultimate Dog Tease





Writing is Listening

25 04 2014

Writing. A cakewalk some might think. Sit down with a cup of warm milk and a box of chicken flavored dental treats and pound the keyboard. For one who has inflexible toes, and no opposable thumbs, it’s an impossible scenario. To the canine writer, the closest comparison might be the paraplegic. Let me tell you why: it’s all about listening.156059336-124599_238x238

I propose a different point of view (I’m a dog): Writing is not a cakewalk, it’s a “dogwalk.”

A dog pulls the master along, pausing here and there to sniff a clue––or drop one. And so the writer leads the reader, imagining clues to add along the way as a path is created, hoping the reader will recognize, however subconsciously, the ones they’ve deposited.

How?

The written word of the author, as recited in the mind of the reader.

Ruh. You don’t have to be a canine ophthalmologist to know this.

Within those neat little sentences fashioned on the page should be everything that must be known about the story at the precise time it needs be known. To garner the information, the reader must pay attention, and here the writer is the master to its slave. The whip is micro-tension, akin to scattering a handful of liver snacks on the floor, and setting a cat on one side and a dog on the other.

How does one see the other? Micro-tension provides this insight through showing the friction between the two. Even if they are friends, there is bound to be some conflict in the above example. Let me tell you, it usually starts with a growl on one side or the other–––even though, of course, I LOVE the cat.

The two characters are at odds, resisting, undermining, attacking, either directly or in the sub-text of the scene. In exposition, emotions are in conflict and ideas at odds. The reader seeks relief by turning the page. The authors greatest hope.

The reader hears the words in his mind. If the writer has done his job, the words trigger a thing called emotion: the literary Pavlovian response. imagesWith a little luck (and a lot of skill), the feeling isn’t resignation, leading the reader, shoulders slumped, to put the book down, and shuffle off to the library for something new.

I know the importance here. This is my struggle. I may be canine, willing to give my heart to most passersby, but words can stump when used to evoke emotion. All my life, a wag of the tail, or a bared tooth, has done the job. Words on a page, free from vocal intonation, are difficult for me. But I think I’m getting closer.

Example, from Clara’s 3rd person POV:

Max said, “I love you.” The glass of ice water rattled as he set it on the table. He looked out the window as though he’d said the words to himself. Released. Clara slipped on her coat, left her key on the table next to the frosty glass, and walked out the door leaving it open to the frigid Christmas air.

or

His words were like a warm bath. “I love you.” The glass of water Max held materialized on the table, his arms around Clara like magic. Max’s eyes in the mirror above the Christmas fire were golden in the light, but he had the look of a man being led to hang.

***

 

Okay. Not Hemingway. images

But do you know how Max feels about Clara in each of these sentences? Do you know how Clara feels? Do you care? do you want to know what the problem is between them? Do you wan to turn the page? Please tell me you do.

I’m working on another novel (5th draft geared to micro-tension. Next draft: emotion…without any wagging tails). I take notes (recorded digitally, of course), I fashion metaphorical sentences––so many that my dreams are all in 3rd person narrative, no longer images, but echoes. I awaken to fragments that make me feel something.

 

Because I listen––and pay attention to the way words make me feel.imagesChow.





A Brief Interview

30 01 2014

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An interview about the writing of my novel, JACK OF HEARTS: A fictionalized account of the mayhem that ensued after I discovered my master’s infidelity.

What are some of the challenges you encountered in writing JACK OF HEARTS?

It was really daunting to contemplate writing about infidelity. I found it to be a vast, complicated topic. I had to muster my courage, I think, to take that on. More than anything I wanted to render it in the right way, and explore it from the standpoint of a dog. I mean, loyalty is everything to the canine, no? That was the other big challenge: writing in the canine voice…inner voice actually. Initially, that was intimidating. I would go to bed at night and wake up worrying about it. What thesaurus translates the wag in its every definition, for instance? But in the end, I felt so compelled to do this. It’s a subject that affects every member of the family, right down to the lowly cat. I think you just have to listen to that place inside yourself as a canine writer. It’s just a creative knowing. Like knowing which piece of undergarment to shred, where to bury a bone, or what part of the garden to ruin. I just took a breath and decided to take it on, write in my imagined voice, and trust it to be authentic.

Where do you like to read?

I have several spots. When I’m in the country, I read usually in the afternoon, under the chestnut tree off the patio – a short reading time, usually poetry. Ogdan Nash, Carl Sandburg, and Robert William Service. I love Mary Oliver’s new book of poetry, DOG SONGS. Who wouldn’t? I read in bed every night. I usually get in bed pretty early with an iPad (with no opposable thumbs, it’s easier to swipe the pages), and I read until the management turns off the light. When in Rome, I sit in a lounge chair on my balcony overlooking the Piazza del Popolo. I love to be outside when the weather’s right. I can stay there pretty much all day––unless the squirrels demand attention.

What is your favorite word?

There are just so many beautiful words. Come, stay, car, park, rat, squirrel. Treat is probably my favorite. In Italian it’s regalo. A little more romantic, don’t you think? And covers so much more than simply the edible. Then there’s Bolognese, spaghetti, fromaggio. But I digress. It’s a shame the book couldn’t be written totally in Italian. Everything sounds better that way. Even veterinario. I think the word “chase” is beautiful, “inseguimento” in Italian. Not so much in its phonics, but just in the power of the word itself.

What is the first book you remember loving?

Go, Dog, Go. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read it. I still have the first copy I read (although, somewhat tattered along the binding…). I remember reading it as a pup, outside, under the chestnut tree, just lying in the grass, one eye on a squirrel, the other on those glorious words in large type.

If you could recommend just one book, what would it be?

Travels with Charlie. Probably because I’d love to see America. The Incredible Journey was a great read, too, but a bit unbelievable. I mean, teaming with a cat?

The novel that probably had the most impact on me was, Lad, A Dog. Canine heroism is a huge motif in my  book. It goes back to the roots of what makes up a dog in mind and spirit, and the first sparks that ignited the path for dogs, from the Neanderthal campfire to the service dogs of today. The hero is an extraordinary collie named Lad, “a thoroughbred in spirit as well as in blood.” I like to think of myself in the same way…except the collie part. It’s a period piece, but charming in its language, even if it is written in English.

And I do prefer print books. Hard covers are better for sinking one’s teeth into. Alas, because of my handicap (no thumbs), I am confined to the electronic device. At the end of the day, I would prefer to hold something concrete between my teeth. There’s something about the weight, substance, and concreteness of the words. The taste of the binding, scent of the glue, texture of the paper.

There is an alchemy to books. I mean, how else might dog tell a story?

Chow.

(With apologies to Huffington Post and Sue Monk Kidd.)





The Seven Day Fog

22 01 2013

“It all started with a wrong turn in the velvet fog of Venice.”

Chapter one, line one, new autodogography.

I am off to the City of Water to do some research. Venice in January: like an iceberg in a snowstorm and tourist-free.

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Steamy bars laden with the scent of tobacco and milk chocolate. Trattorie packed with bodies warming to a plate of squid-ink pasta or creamy truffle risotto.

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Gondolieri standing in their boats, wrapped up like winter hams, waiting for business. Ice between my toes. Frost on my snout. Pregnant mist pushing its long, fleshy fingers between the towers and canals.2292218586_e546c44060_m

I know only roughly (or ruff-ly, as is the case) my plot. Certain things have to occur: suspense, romance, danger—and magnificent meals. Truffles will take part as it is winter in northern Italy. And a French-African Chihuahua I once met will play in.1159578853_5864672ff8_m

 

 

Write what you know is what I say, until you no longer know. Then make it up. It’s fiction. All life is a type of fiction, after all. And the living, nothing more than writers. Comforting to know one can always change the ending. All dogs understand this.

The ending is always owned by it’s writer in more ways than one.8381306661_3b58d2eccf_m

Chew on that.

Chow.





I’ll Have What She’s Having

28 06 2012

Who hasn’t seen When Harry Met Sally? Even a small, Italian dog, who may have fallen asleep to a Lassie rerun and awakened to that 1990 Nora Ephron classic, knows how to fake an orgasm. Just ask our cat, Fraud.

I remember every worthwhile quotation of Ms. Ephron’s. That’s what a philosophical canine does: commit the philosphical to memory. You may think we merely lie dormant beneath the oak dreaming away the day, but we are contemplating far more than squirrels.

“I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.”  Could have easily been spoken by a newly adopted dog.

“Oh, how I regret not having worn a bikini for the entire year I was twenty-six. If anyone young is reading this, go, right this minute, put on a bikini, and don’t take it off until you’re thirty-four.” As a dog who frequents the Italian beaches, I can attest.

“Insane people are always sure that they are fine. It is only the sane people who are willing to admit that they are crazy.” As a dog living in a household of infidels, I can also attest to this.

“The amount of maintenance involving hair is genuinely overwhelming. Sometimes I think that not having to worry about your hair any more is the secret upside of death.” What dog doesn’t worry about this?

“You can never have too much butter – that is my belief. If I have a religion, that’s it.” Proof Nora was a dog in her last life and will be in her next.

“Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.” I would say hero but then, I just published my autodogography.

If I wore a hat, it would be off to Nora this day. For now, the examination of life and its ironic insults to humanity and the man-woman condition must surely be passed to dog. We do, after all, see things from a different perspective (the grass), closer to the basics of life (garden vegetables, ground rodents and poo) and a simpler existence: We eat therefore we are.

I will do my best to see things with a the flair that says, “this dog is both humorous and wise.”

But there is one profundity espoused by Nora Ephron that I will never be able to top:

“When your children are teenagers, it’s important to have a dog so that someone in the house is happy to see you.”

Chow.





Writing With No Opposable Thumb

29 05 2012

The process gives new meaning to “hunt and peck”.

My nose is sore. The space between my ears (high cranial area known to contain the Great Knowledge of the Terrier) aches from the nose-tap concussion of putting words to paper each day. But I am finished with the feat.

I stretch out Under the Tuscan Sun (I am in author-mode, after all) and warm myself on summer’s fringe, thinking of the agent process. 

Query letters come to mind. Tag-lines run through my small but efficient canine brain: Mayhem ensues when the family dog discovers his master’s infidelity…or is it, his masters infidelity. Possessive AND plural. Oy.

Punctuation is not my strong suit, after all, dogs do not usually put words to paper…paper is saved for puppyhood deposits.

But it HAS been done: A Dog’s Life, The Art of Racing in the Rain, Timbuktu, Mr.Chartwell…all to some success.

Why not a real autodogography, by a real dog.

Great hook, no?


Nap-time is over. I trundle back to the chair, stacked with multiple pillows, and raise myself to the keyboard.

Dog seeking representation.

Chow.





Woof

11 08 2011

I like words.  Some Italian; some English; some Latin.  Perhaps the word
most commonly used by dogs is ‘woof’, but this is merely the tip of the proverbial dog’s tongue.

Most people think dogs only consider only certain verbiage: Come, sit, stay, roll-over.  

True, these are important references to the dog’s life, worth contemplation and reverence, but there is so much more, no?

The beauty of a nuanced language is infinite. Replace ‘cat-lover’ with the word ‘ailurophile’ (meaning the same) and it eliminates the brittle edge of feline reference, making it almost palatable (pun intended).

Try these words next time you speak (woof) and see how pleasant the simplicity of beautiful speech becomes.

If dogs could talk, the list would be laminated to the collar for quick review.

Humans: Language is a wondrous gift.  Learn to use it well and enjoy.

Chow.





I Confess

23 06 2011

I confess, I know a bit about adultery.  My master has a little something on the side (see the “about” page on this blog).  He’s Latin, Italian to be exact, and he’s a man.  Two and two often make three: The infidel, the mistress and the wife. Reference: Silvio Berlusconi (well, in his case the sum may have been more than three.)

I can identify with straying, though I firmly believe infidelity should include no more than a cursory bark and sniff. This, by the way, does not employ tweeting, emailing or texting but the use of the eyes, the nose and the voice-box only.

Fortunately, most Latin males who stray may gain easy absolution via Catholic confession. This satisfies not only the priest’s appreciation for a bawdy story but the offender’s guilt, as well.

Would that it were so easy.

Absolution is more difficult to gain at home, I’ve found.  It is not always true that is is easier to get forgiveness than permission.

Thankfully, dogs are speechless.  Otherwise, we would perpetually be in the confessional, let alone the dog-house.

Given the propensity for adultery among Latins, one wonders why the church hasn’t gone automated WAY before now:

Note to self: Enunciation is important—in any language.

Chow.





AH-Choo

14 09 2009

I hate sneezing.  

First of all, I don’t understand it.  It goes totally against all standards of wild behavior, after all.  Dogs who gave away their positions on the Savannah way back when simply didn’t make their mark in evolution….at least not in a way I covet.

Second of all, if one is targeting a flea in a difficult area of one’s flank, even a small sneeze will throw it off the trail.

What IS the reasoning behind this convulsion?  To clean the nose?  To scare the daylights out of the hegemony? To blow the fluff from the corner of my dog-dish?

All valid but none, necessary.

I fear the act may be going the way of Darwin: phased out over time as runny nosed dogs simply don’t survive.

Solution: give the sneeze true purpose.  Use it as an emotion, any emotion. Make it cute, like one’s presence at the dinner table, wide-eyed and ears perked at the possibility of a crumb.

After all, cute survives, no?

Hairless Chihuahuas not-withstanding….

Chow.





Ciao, Ciao, Chanel.

1 09 2009

Chanel has died.  Not the fashion (even though it’s not Italian, it seems eternal) nor the designer, herself (Coco is long gone)—but the dog.

Chanel apparently was the oldest living dog at 21 years of age.  That’s 147 in dog years.  She lived in New York.  Her favorite dish was boiled chicken and rice, clearly a Manhattan thing.

No pastrami; no corned beef? And she called herself a New Yorker…

No pasta; no red wine?  Why even live to a ripe old age without the satisfaction of these staples, I ask?

Though I see the appeal of the pullet, rice is a bit like eating an old sock, and a clean one, at that.  At least pasta is sauced.

Now that Chanel is gone, a new contender has taken a stand: Max, a 26 year-old mixed breed Cajun.  I’ll bet his diet features more spice: Louisiana Rat Gumbo, Squirrel Etouffee.  

Now, that’s living.

Dinner tonight in Rome?

Pasta Puttanesca. My key to long life:

1 lb. Spaghetti, cooked and drained.

Saute 5 cloves thinly sliced garlic in 1/3 cup Olive oil until soft.  Add 2 teaspoons anchovy paste, 1/2 tsp. hot red pepper flakes, 1-28-oz can whole tomatoes in juice, 1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives. 2 tblsp. drained capers, pinch of sugar, 3/4 cup chopped basil.

Toss with hot pasta and serve 4-6 people with, of course, a glass of Chianti…or two.

Chow.








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